MORE HEISMAN COVERAGE
Texas A&M's Manziel Wins Heisman (Sean Cartell)
Johnny Heisman: How We Got Here (Eric SanInocencio)
By: Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
As recently as August - back when the Texas A&M starting quarterback position was still a question mark - no one could have envisioned the type of legendary season we were about to witness from Johnny Manziel.
Due to Hurricane Isaac postponing A&M's season-opener against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30, the arrival of Johnny Football was delayed a week out of the gate. We got a preview of what could be in the first half against Florida the following Saturday as Manziel ripped off a 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, taking off to the right side before planting for a cut back and gliding into the end zone.
Sure, it was a nice, exciting run. But after the Gators' swarming defense made the Aggies look pedestrian in the second half of a 20-17 Florida win, we still really didn't know what we were in for.
By Sept. 15, however, it became clear that Manziel was going to be special.
Facing SMU in Dallas, Manziel torched the Mustangs for 418 total yards and six combined touchdowns in a 48-3 rout for the Ags. Two weeks later against Arkansas, Maziel put all of America on notice with a record-setting performance in a big win over the Razorbacks. Against the Hogs, Manziel made those 418 yards against SMU look easy by setting an SEC record for total yards in a single game with 557 (!!!) to go along with four more scores.
In a span of only four career games - he's a redshirt freshman, mind you - Manziel was already tearing off eye-popping numbers through the air and on the ground. In a month's time, Johnny was already evoking comparisons to a pair of the SEC's all-time greats: Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, both former Heisman Trophy winners.
Even after such an emphatic explosion onto the college football scene, the seemingly endless reel of highlight plays that Johnny Football proceeded to provide us with is utterly amazing.
We went from a 7-yard touchdown run on a third-and-goal against Arkansas that included a full circle (literally 360 degrees) into and out of the pocket en route to the end zone, to a 29-yard scoring run down the sideline to spark a fourth quarter comeback at Ole Miss. From there we were treated to the game-winning touchdown pass against the Rebels with less than two minutes to play and an 80-yard touchdown bomb against Louisiana Tech a week later. Manziel even ripped off the game-clinching 72-yard touchdown run in Shreveport to break his own single-game total yardage record for good measure.
Against No. 1 Alabama, we witnessed a touchdown pass to Ryan Swope that featured Manziel spinning away from pressure while fumbling the ball, only to recover it in midair before finding his senior receiver alone in the end zone. Then there were the back-to-back dimes Manziel chucked to Swope and Malcolm Kennedy late in Tuscaloosa to slay the Crimson Tide.
I would literally have to go on all day to get through every jaw-dropping moment that Johnny Football created in the 2012 regular season.
By the time it was said and done, Manziel had not only caught up to Newton and Tebow, but he had surpassed their yardage totals from their respective Heisman years. Tebow totaled 4,181 yards and 55 touchdowns in 2007, and Newton compiled 4,369 and 51 scores a few years later in 2010 to give the SEC its third Heisman in four seasons.
All Manziel did was rack up 4,600 total yards to go along with 43 combined touchdowns. Not bad for a redshirt freshman who still has a bowl game left to play.
But what separates Manziel from other prolific dual-threat quarterbacks - even ones as dynamic as Newton and Tebow - is the electrifying way that he goes about his business.
Newton and Tebow each weigh-in around 240 pounds and showcase a more powerful, downhill running style. At only 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, the ultra-agile Johnny Football seemingly invents new ways to deke defenders and churn out big plays.
Manziel's improvisational skills were called on countless occasions this year to manufacture huge runs. His ability to stop on a dime and change direction made him impossible to contain at times, as he evaded sure sack situations and turned them into positive gains.
Another way that he stands out is by not only using his legs to gash defenses on the ground, but also to create big plays through the air. Manziel's ability to evade defenders while remaining aware of his receivers downfield led to many of his highlight plays, and it's a big reason why he was able to lead the SEC in rushing yards per game and still rank third in passing.
To say that he has a knack for making big plays is an understatement.
Manziel broke off 39 runs of 10 yards or more this season, second in the SEC only to Georgia's Todd Gurley. Of those 39, 18 went for 20 yards or more and 10 went for 30-plus, more than any other player in the conference in both cases. In the passing game, he completed 130 passes of 10 yards or more, trailing only Tyler Wilson of Arkansas and Tyler Bray of Tennessee, and he was the only passer in the league with two passes of 80-plus.
Through it all, Manziel created a legendary reputation that transcends the sport and he has now busted down the doors of history. Last week he became the first freshman to win SEC Offensive Player of the Year since Herschel Walker in 1980 and now he has brought the Heisman Trophy back to America's toughest conference, becoming the first freshman ever to win the award in its prestigious 78-year history.
All of the questions about whether or not Kevin Sumlin's air raid offense could succeed against SEC defenses and uncertainty at quarterback seem downright silly at this point, but that is part of the wonder of what Manziel has accomplished this season.
He made the most of his time this season, stuffing about four years' worth of "are you kidding me?!" plays into 12 games.
Even though the football season always seems to fly by too quickly, when you think back on everything Johnny Manziel has done in 2012, August seems like a long, long time ago.